Reporting From Pakistan

Father’s ongoing despair after boat tragedy

Reported with the assistance of Riaz Ghafur and Wisal Yousafzai from The University of Peshawar.

Parents of asylum seekers remain haunted by the maritime disappearances of their children who were seeking a better life in Australia.

Rahim Gul Bangash, 60, allowed his son, Amir Gul, 26, who was studying at College in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) of Pakistan, to go to Australia to seek a brighter future.

“I was reluctant, but many other youths and his friend were going to Australia,” Mr Bangash said.

“I compromised because I felt my son was unsecure here with suicide and bomb blasts in the area where we were living.”

Mr Bangash’s son, two nephews and a cousin are among the reported 94 people who remain missing from a boat that capsized on August 29, 2012 in the Indonesian waters of Sunda Strait while en route to Christmas Island, Australia.

According to an October 2012 report by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service,  Australian ship HMAS Maitland along with four merchant vessels rescued 55 survivors and one deceased person from the Sunda Strait on August 30, 2012. They were then transferred to the Indonesian authorities.

Search and rescue efforts were called off by the Indonesian Government the next day.

At least 94 people remain unaccounted for, but the exact number may never be known.

By Surturz (talk) – Own work based on [2], CC BY-SA 3.0,

In a Facebook post to Amnesty International Australia in October 2012, Mr Bangash said he believed some of the rescued asylum seekers had been moved to Christmas Island, but that their identities were being kept secret due to a dispute between Australian and Indonesian authorities.

Mr Bangash pleaded with Amnesty International Australia to look into the disappearance of his family members and help him find some answers.

Five years later, he still wonders if his son is alive or dead.

University of Peshawar International Relations lecturer Mr Irfan Khan said many people are trying to escape to find peace and food, due to insurgency and militancy in the region.

A 2016 report from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre found 1.5 million people were internally displaced in Pakistan as a result of conflict and violence.  

Brown University’s Costs of War Project found 61,549 people were killed directly in the violence between October 2001 and July 2016, with indirect deaths running into the hundreds of thousands.

Mr Khan said that the violence was destroying many “dimensions” of society, severely affecting infrastructure, investment and business, causing unemployment and “uncertainties of peace and life”.

A 2016 report from the Pakistan Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform found 73% of people in the FATA live below the poverty line.

Mr Khan warned of deceitful people blackmailing and taking advantage of the poor.

“The blackmailers engulf the trust of poor people here in Pakistan and show them green gardens. But the reality is different, they throw them in the sea,” Mr Khan said.

“This happens because of the lack of awareness about the migrant policies in Australia.”

However, Mr Khan was quick to point out that the Australian Embassy in Pakistan had tried to create awareness through ads on the radio and posters on the side of auto rickshaws.

Mr Bangash and his wife only wanted to see a bright future for their son.

“After the incident with the boat and for the last five years he has been missing, his mother and I have become psychology patients,” Mr Bangash said.

“We are always thinking of our son.”


Featured image: courtesy of still.epsilon via VisualHunt /  CC BY

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